Monday, January 4, 2016

I Can Predict Your Future.

I did one of those online word puzzles today. The ones where you glance over a grid of seemingly random letters and the first three words you see are supposedly the three things your next year will be filled with. I saw "Love", "Money" and "Fun". Hooray! I like all those things! I did a little seated cha-cha, celebrating my good luck.

Of course, it was completely silly. I don't mean to ruin the internet for you, but those online tests and quizzes predict absolutely nothing. (And, by the way, there is no Santa Claus or Two Week Miracle Diet. Also, if there actually is a non-surgical way to give a middle-aged lady the smooth and taut jawline of a twenty year old, well, I haven't found it. Call me if you have.)  This test clearly stacked the deck in the participants favor; all the words were just the sort of things anyone would want to have in abundance. Believe you me, there were plenty of words they didn't include; words like, "weight-gain", "boredom", or "female-patterned-baldness." Also "cynicism" of which I always have, in plentiful supply. 

These should be on our lists. It all should. The point isn't to be always happy--the point is to be alive. To be immersed and aware and vibrating with whatever bag you happen to be carrying at the moment. What would my teenage years have been without braying inconsolably into a pillow while listening to Chicago cassettes on my boom box? Pretty damn dull, that's what. Or college years without scrambling for cash? One of my favorite wintertime memories is of me and a friend, me too broke to afford an apartment with actual heat, laughing as we huddled in front of my open oven door, temperature set to 500, and eating an improvised "spanish rice" out of the only remaining foodstuffs in our collective cupboards; a cup of rice, a shriveled pepper and ketsup. Shut up. It was delicious.

Life is made up of all of it. And we're so, so much richer for it. At the very least, it's nice that the Universe keeps giving us all these opportunities to rise above ourselves. That's what I tell myself, anyways, when the shit hits the fan. Nope. I'm lying. Most of the time I go straight into my Camille-Weeping-on-her-Bed-of-Flowers routine, but later, later, I remember that I have the option of responding gracefully to life's challenges and resolve to do better next time. So I guess that's something.

With that in mind, allow me to predict for you, with all the guaranteed accuracy of the internet, what your next year will be made up of:

political commercials                     
car repairs
dental work
warm socks
blue skies

Its going to be a wonderful year and the only three words you really need to get through it are "humor", "faith" and "gratitude". Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Going Bananas.

A dear friend recently gifted me a bracelet inscribed with the motto “she believed she could, so she did.” In the past, my pessimistically superstitious nature wouldn’t willingly don such an item, feeling as I did that to do so would be to court certain failure. But you know what? I’m feeling pretty darn sassy these days and have been wearing it with glee. So many things seems possible, easy even. Like this morning, I was hemming and hawing about heading out for this daily run of mine and I imagined seeing friends over the holiday and having then enquire how the running streak was going. What was I going to say? “I couldn’t do it?” Given that neither of my legs currently sport a cast, that’s a damn lie. I know I can, so out I went. 

It's that sort of certainty that has me feeling so good these days—which, again, given my cynical nature, is darn surprising. I’d always heard the breathless promise that women feel great, fabulous, in their forties and fifties, and had pretty much chalked it up to an old wives tale. I know plenty of crabby women of every age. It just always seemed that the women who were awesome in middle age, were awesome all their lives and the women that spent the previous decades anxious and upset, well, they’re the ones ahead of me in line at SuperTarget, demanding to see the manager.

But now I’m old. Yup. It happened a couple of weeks ago last Wed. just like flipping a light switch. It was the afternoon I brought home half a ginger chai latte and put it in the refrigerator to save it for the next day. Boom. Old. Since then, I haven’t been able to read a single thing with out my reading glasses, I’ve purchased a woolen peacoat that comes to mid-thigh--fashion be damned-- because my butt gets uncomfortably cold in the winter weather, plus, today I found myself lingering over a grey cowl-neck sweater with the faintest shimmer in the fabric because I found it “snazzy.” The fact that I, Melanie Danke, am feeling happier and less stressed and more confident than I ever have should be good news to all women out there. 

I’ve spent much of my life as that anxious woman, wringing my hands over hypothetically looming doom. I often reference this article a friend of mine read that hypothesized the reason our ancestors flourished over other primates wasn’t our big brain, but that we were more curious, more willing to throw caution to the wind. Let me tell you, up until recently I wasn’t a very curious monkey. I like to stick close to the bananas and my monkey buddies. I’d never even broken a bone until this year and, sure, I broke it smashing it tipsily into the coffee table in my very own living room, but given that I was training for an Ultra at the time, we’re going to call it a training injury.

But now my appetite has been whetted. The past few years I've done some things that are definitely outside my comfort zone. Couple that with the lesson that, maybe, whether I succeed or fail doesn't have a whole lot to do with my ultimate value as a person, and I find myself eagerly scanning the horizon for new, monkey adventures. I want to test things out, see how far these little monkey arms can swing.

In the spirit of newness, I’ve asked Hubby to help me to use the power saw. Not that I couldn’t do it, myself, you understand, I just want someone there to call 911. You know, just in case. I’ve decided that the rest of this decade is dedicated to competence. Competence and building all kinds of pallet projects off Pinterest. Becoming proficient with power tools is the first step for both. I don’t think it will be so hard. Besides, I believe I can. And so I’m gonna’. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Doing Time: 100 Days of Running

I recently read a book on marketing... okay, the first half of the first chapter because, hello, marketing? Snore. But it did bring up the concept of systems. Everybody needs a system--a set method and timetable for getting shit done. Sounds great, maybe. I mean, I love any excuse to make a list--YES! Lets organize this place! Let's organize my LIFE! Scrub the bathrooms on Wednesday, clean the floors on Thursday, lay out running clothes every night then go make lunches for the next day. That kind of stuff sounds wonderful. 

But systems=consistency and I am not particularly awesome at that. Rope me into a daily schedule and in two days, three tops, I am whining like a fifth grader the first week of December, desperately counting the days until winter break. I have no idea how other grown-ups handle the tension between reliable schedules and freedom, but I have to believe it's a whole lot better than I do. Kirk, for example. Kirk never, not ever, has complained about going to his jobs. Not in twenty-some odd years. More than likely that is because he is a mature adult and not because he's trying to make me look bad. (But I wouldn't put it past him. I mean, honestly, not one dang time...? That's just crazy.)

This is lack of consistency is one of many character flaws I am forever trying to fix. Which is why I decided to follow up my ultra-marathon with a one hundred day running streak. One hundred days of easy running; no worries about time, pace or distance. It should be, I thought, a piece of cake. 

It is horrible. It is ten, no, a thousand times worse than training for long distances. It's like running jail;
"How long are you in for?" 
"One hundred days."

Day 32, no hope of parole.

I resist and resist, dragging myself out the door, drawn by the singular desire to add one more check to the growing number on the calendar. (Actually, stars. Never underestimate the power of a gold star.) Then, suddenly, out of the clear blue, there's a morning when I feel I could run forever. No pattern to suss out, no possible reason why; on this day I want to run and on so many others, no. I do not. 

But stop running and see what happens. In a month, maybe two, you are back to square one. Oh, that hurts. It is completely unfair that so many of the gains in our lives disappear unless we pursue them relentlessly. That's why I don't lift weights. There is nothing in that activity that I enjoy, other than not having huge, old lady bat wings, and to think that I would have to hoist those weights unceasingly to the end of my days to keep the results...? Forget it. I never liked wearing tank tops, anyways.

But not everything is solved that easily. It's hard to move ahead on your goals without disciplined forward motion. Too often my trajectory resembles a nap-deprived preschooler--"Ohh! A butterfly!...Squirrel!...Can I have a snack?"--just running willy nilly through the park. I have to believe I could accomplish a great deal more if I had a modicum of focus. Which is the reason for the daily run. It's a small way to practice consistency and discipline. My hope is that I will learn to overcome the mental resistance I'm experiencing. That I will evolve to having zen-like acceptance of all things, a serene, beaming, ecstatic vision of happiness no matter what. Which I admit places an awful lot of pressure on a simple morning jog. But maybe not too much on one hundred of them.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Plumbing the Depths.

Let me tell you what's going on at my house right now:
A seemingly routine call to a plumber led to a second appointment and the addition of two more plumbers. They showed up a bit ago in the giant truck. The "take no prisoners" truck. They have already pulled up the carpet of the family room and are busily breaking up the concrete floor while I cower, stress-eating chocolate bars in my bedroom.

And how is your Monday going?

Initially, I dealt very well with the news. "What are ya' gonna' do?" I told Hubby cheerfully, "It's not as if we can't fix this. We'll make it work somehow."

I was very, very proud of myself. You see, I have this tiny issue with money in that I don't actually have any. This has led, at different times, to all sorts of emotional theatrics on my part. The fact that I was able to respond with any sort of equilibrium to the initial diagnosis and quote I took as a sign of hard won maturity. Yay, me!

That was before the sledgehammers.

Now, whenever they come upstairs to give me an update, I laugh, "HA, hahaha!" It's a jovial laugh with only the slightest tinge of hysteria. They may be figuring the final cost of this in terms of feet of pipe, but I'm tracking it as amount of kitchen remodel lost. "Well, that would've bought a dishwasher and paid to have the floors re-sanded," I say. "Oops, there goes the countertop." The good news is, I guess if we had been truly desperate, we could have gone ahead and retooled the kitchen. The bad news is, I have a nagging suspicion that now we never will.

Did that sound dramatic? I'm feeling dramatic. I feel like day drinking and then lying face down on the couch and hyperventilating into the cushions. Maybe later--after the chocolate runs out. Right now I'm just going to lie very still and be grateful for credit cards and running water and old, persnickety cats and pillowcases from Grandma's house and warm slippers. I'm going to think thankful thoughts about Christmas Club savings accounts and long autumns, soy milk eggnog, and the fact that my children's love doesn't hinge on my ability to buy them expensive do-hickies. I'm going to contemplate how happiness is not dependent on circumstances and then, when I'm feeling quite like myself again, I'm going to venture downstairs to sneak a peek at the hole in the floor.

Give me ten minutes. Maybe an hour.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Ultra Countdown.

This is happening, people. Tomorrow. Tomorrow is my 50 mile ultra marathon. I'm seemingly pretty chill but that might due to being paralyzed by anxiety.

Yesterday was a great day. Yesterday I got up, did yoga and had a shiatsu massage. I love massages and try very hard to get them once every other year or so. Sigh. If I had any of that mythological "extra" money laying around, I'd have a massage once a week....once a day, if I could swing it. I would live in a 500 square foot shack next to the lavish house I gifted to my masseuse, just so they would always be at my beck and call. There is nothing else that feels as inherently healing to me. I honestly believe massage could heal just about anything that wrong with me, be it my Raynaud's, my old-lady hip or my inherent cynicism. Obviously, it was quite a treat for me.

I was celebrating the end of my training. See, yesterday there was no stress. Yesterday wasn't a pack and prep and freak out day. Not a stare-wide-eyed-at-the-sky-yelling-"Stop RAINING!" day. Yesterday I didn't have to worry about oversleeping or falling or being cut from the race for being too damn slow. (A solid possibility.) I rarely feel as content as I did yesterday. Six months of training, for whatever errors and injuries and set-backs, seemed something to commemorate and so I did.

If I don't make the cut off time,
it's because of this hill...

or this one...

Or because I fell down this one...

I was thinking about all I gained over the past months. (Besides eight, stupid pounds I mean, which we are all going to agree is muscle, right?) And what popped into my mind was how often I had to practice silencing that bitchy, inner voice--the one that says "You can not do this thing." 50 miles is kind of a deal. I honestly cannot remember the last time I felt so breathless with the enormity of a task. Maybe in the last, anxious weeks of my first pregnancy. You think you know what's going to happen, because you've done your homework--read your little books, bought the gear, took the vitamins--but you also suspect that you are completely full of shit and utterly unprepared. Dead on to what I feel right now. So full of cautious optimism and simultaneous regret; I didn't prepare correctly, I'm not fit enough, look at me! I'm no athlete! All week I have been simply pushing those thoughts from my head with the same, cold-hearted precision with which I have culled other unwanted brain nuggets; historical dates, election news, and the pressing need to schedule preventative dental care. Whenever I start feeling negative I simply refuse to think about it.

This is maybe the healthiest activity I have engaged in during the entire process--learning that I do not need to place any credence on critical thoughts that bubble up through my brain. My brain also periodically tosses out the lyrics to the Lutheran Girl Pioneer theme song we used to sing before meetings back in the 1970s, and I don't spend any time or energy on that, do I? (Actually, I do. It was kind of a catchy tune.)

I feel in all the "think optimistic" advice floating around out there, this was the part that I missed. How to deal with negative thoughts? Literally don't think about it. Refuse. "Oh my god, I'm as big as a house today." Push that sucker right out of the brain the nanosecond it pops up. Treat it like the sudden apparition of your second grade teacher's maiden name and get on with your day.  Discard it without emotion. Decide that self-criticism holds no interest to you. Boring. Like the milling process of Cream of Wheat or calculating compound interest--let it be a snoozefest with which you cannot be bothered.

How perfectly marveous! Obviously, it's going to take some practice. I don't always succeed, but it has helped me maintain a pretty positive outlook during training. Like on the day I was running around a local lake and being relentlessly passed by younger, fitter, faster runners. I have been known to not take to that situation well. In the past, there might have been a time, though you can't prove it, that I abandoned my run to sit pouting on a bench because I was so frustrated. This time I managed to dismiss all that negative comparisons. Instead, I focused on the beauty of the lake and the ease with which I ran. I wondered idly how many of these young runners would still be running two decades from now? How many would be looking to run longer and longer distances?

"I am a goddamn inspiration." I said, and then laughed until I snorted. Yes, it made me look like a lunatic, but, luckily, I no longer worry about things like that.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Desk of One's Own.

I don't know why I thought writing a book and simultaneously training for an Ultra-marathon would be a good idea. Perhaps because my parents dropped me on my head at some point, I'm guessing. It definitely doesn't speak to a clear grasp of my personal reality or an understanding about simple time management. Plus, as it shakes out, they are both coming to fruition about the same time which means I am stuck in the middle of a month of anxiety about the outcomes and nothing good has yet happened. Well, nothing but this:

That, my friends, is my very own desk. I haven't had a dedicated space for writing, ever! And yes, I know, the magazine clippings on the wall make it look like a fourteen-year-old's bedroom and, yes, that is a vision board (Don't judge me--if Oprah says a vision board will get me a kitchen remodel, then vision board it is.) and I admit, it is a little too close to the cat box to be entirely magical, but, sweet mother of Jesus, a space of my own?!! I am in heaven. By my calculations, I have about five hot seconds before the kids start stealing the pens out of the drawer and leaving their dirty socks on the keyboard, but I am going to enjoy every single moment before that happens. I may even get some writing done.

Maybe. Right now it is mostly the place I escape to, in order to eat peanut butter toast in relative silence. Because peanut butter toast fuels the writing process, obviously. I've had three pieces already this morning. (Someone better adjust her toast-to-writing ratio, or my next blog will be brought to you by The Biggest Loser.)

Another plus, though it might not seem to be so on first blush, is that my desk is very close to the laundry room. Here's why that is a good thing; Sometimes you need to pace. Or mull something over whilst engaging in some mindless, repetitive job. Or just burn off a little anxiety, because clearly you have used up every good, creative thought that could possibly be born out of your brain. Right now, for instance, I am 95% positive that I have used up all my ideas and that I am, at this moment, an empty shell of a woman. (Well, an empty shell filled with toast, like a piƱata, but you get my point.)

I can mention it, I think, because I know other people feel exactly the same. We readily own all of our faults and errors, but the good things we do...? We feel like we hit the lottery. Rather than name our successes as the inevitable result of our hard work or expertise, we chalk it up to chance. You know, I have been writing since Junior High, and every single time someone comments that they like something I've written, I nearly fall to the ground, limp with relief. "Fooled them again!" I think, so grateful that it has magically escaped their notice that I am a total fraud who can barely string two words together. 

And the craziest thing is how very common that belief is. This world is full of generous, brilliant, kind and creative people who not-so-secretly believe themselves to be dull, talentless, under-performing hacks. Who feel like they are clumsily plodding through their days, never aware of the graceful dance we see in their movements. Such a shame. 

It reminds me of something I read and passed on to Miss Teen Wonder last year, when she was struggling with the transition to college; "Never compare your insides to other people's outsides." Rare is the person who manages to come out of that comparison unscathed. Of course, have enough kids and the Law of Averages mandates you will find yourself living with just such a person. And I do. 

One of our twin girls used to worry me half to death. She seemed so needy for attention that I worried she would never have a sense of herself, that her tendency to fling her little body into the spotlight was the result of low self-esteem. Oh, but I was mistaken. I see now that she was merely waiting for the rest of us to get on board with her obvious fabulousness--a trait that, as her mother, I find admirable and only rarely irritating.

She is so comfortable with herself and aware of her many gifts that I think she is honestly taken aback when she enters a room and there is no applause. At least, she wouldn't be surprised if there was. Furthermore, she cannot understand why everyone else does not feel the exact, same way. I often hear her lecturing her more anxious sister about recognizing your own talent and she is very generous in her assessments of others.

That child's insides match her outsides, no doubt about it. You can bet she wouldn't have waited 30-some odd years to set up a desk. What can I say? It takes some of us longer than others--and if we aren't exactly dancing yet, at least we've turned up the music.

Cha, cha, cha!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

It's a Jungle Out There!

       I spent my afternoon off weeding my husband's gardens while he was at work. I think that means I no longer need to purchase him an anniversary present this year. I also drank his beer while I did it, which falls under the "spoils of war" category, I believe, or possibly, "while the cat's away..." 

For various reasons, the end of summer got away from him and his gardens ran amok, took on a sort of mad ferociousness. It looks like a radioactive experiment gone awry out there--any second a giant garden toad is going to thunder out of the depths and terrorize the neighborhood. We have kale plants that come up to my waist and as much as I love green smoothies, I can't imagine that I will ever find a use for it all.

You need to understand that this is a particularly laudable and unselfish action on my part. I hate gardening. No. More than that. I loathe it. I loathe the feel of dirt. I loathe the jolt when a particularly creepy crawly thing makes it presence known. I absolutely hate reaching my hand into a deeply overgrown area. (What's in there? Frog? Snake? Displaced raccoon bent on revenge?) I'm also not fond of sun, heat, sweating, or the feel of gardening gloves. 

When I was younger, the slightest summertime infraction would get me sent out to the garden to weed. Horrors! We lived in the country, surrounded by pine forest which, in the summer, meant aggressive deer flies absolutely committed to sucking you dry, usually by burrowing through your hair to your scalp. I can still feel the crunch from pinching the life from them and then sliding them down my hair before tossing them to the ground. Gross. Plus, the dirt was really, really sandy and really, really full of slugs. I have to give my mom kudos, I’m not sure how she got anything to grow there—especially considering the incompetent and sullen help she had to work with. 

I’d like to think that my technique has improved a little bit over the decades. That I remember to pull the weeds out from the roots and not just hack, resentfully, at the stuff visible above the ground.

Like I said, I'd like to think that. 

Still it was better than nothing. Although, dangerous, nonetheless. See, there I was, weeding the rose bed when I started pulling out....carrots? 

"How odd," I thought. "These plants sure do migrate." But then I stopped and reconsidered. Because I am married to exactly the type of man who would plant roses and carrots together on the grounds that, "the sun is better over there." 

This is why any foray into the garden is dangerous for me. Before long I am exasperatedly demanding that he stop planting the broccoli and the zinnias together and -BAM!- I'm back to having the garden be my job. Which would be terrible. My garden would be so much worse. And by that I mean it would be lawn. 

So happy extra-early anniversary, darlin'. You keep planting your wacky Mad Hatter gardens if that's what makes you happy. I picked those carrots for you. And if you find that you are out of beer, it wasn't me. I think the giant garden toad drank them.